TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Aerial views from some of the Florida communities that were hit hardest by Hurricane Ian this week provided a better look Friday at the widespread damage and devastation left behind by the storm.
WFLA’s news helicopter flew from Tampa down to the Fort Myers area on Friday afternoon to survey the damage. Photojournalist Jim Hockett, who used to work and live in Fort Myers, was behind the camera as the chopper flew over Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach.
Parts of the Sanibel Causeway, the only road to and from Sanibel Island, were completely wiped out by the storm earlier this week.
“You can see where the roadway just completely buckled,” Hockett said as he flew over the breached area of the bridge. “And then if you come along the causeway this way, it’s just completely washed out. It’s just — gone. The bridge is completely gone here. The pilings are gone, the deck is gone. There’s no road at all.”
Views from above showed the massive gaps between the remaining parts of the causeway. It also showed where sand washed out from underneath the causeway when the area was inundated with water.
“That’s the power of storm surge,” Meteorologist Rebecca Barry said. “We talked about, when Hurricane Charley was approaching, the potential for the bridges across the Tampa Bay area to be washed away. Surge can do that, unfortunately.”
Captiva and Sanibel Islands
Storm surge also created giant washouts along the beach on Captiva and Sanibel Islands.
“Those are all along the coast now, so that completely changed the landscape of the beach,” Barry explained.
As the helicopter flew over the beach, Hockett spotted a group of approximately eight people trying to get off the island via a private boat because they couldn’t get out by the road with the causeway washed out.
“Looks like that’s the only way anybody can get on or off the island right now, is either by helicopter or by boat,” he said.
Barry pointed out the dangers of boating in that area so soon after the storm.
“There’s going to be a ton of debris in the water. The shoals will have changed, the sandbars will have changed,” she explained. “So they’re going to take it really slowly.”
Fort Myers Beach
The chopper flew over Fort Myers Beach next, one of the areas hit hardest by the surge. One of the first things they saw was the destroyed Fort Myers Beach Pier.
“This is what’s left of the pier on Fort Myers Beach. It’s completely gone, all that’s left are the pilings,” Hockett said.
Buildings — both homes and businesses — were also destroyed in the storm. Others, mostly newer buildings, appeared to have avoided significant damage.
“This is a great example of the new construction codes,” Barry said. “See the house that looks almost untouched and unscathed? That’s new hurricane-code construction. And the older home beside that wasn’t held to that same code while it was built is almost completely gone.”
The downtown area of Fort Myers Beach was also decimated, with some restaurants and shops completely wiped out.
“There should be a lot of shops, restaurants, people having fun — enjoying their vacations,” Hockett said. “And right now it’s just gone. It’s just been wiped out. You can see the pilings from what’s left of the buildings. All that’s left out here right now is complete destruction.”
Areas near downtown where homes once stood were also heavily damaged, with many homes completely gone. Debris was scattered everywhere, likely washed in when the storm surge came through.
“This is not right on the beach, this is a couple blocks in off the beach,” Hockett explained. “So this isn’t just homes on the beach being destroyed but a few blocks in. Here you can see — there should be homes here, buildings here but there’s nothing left but the pilings. The storm surge just came in with the heavy winds and just wiped everything right off its foundation.”
The news chopper did spot cleanup efforts, including bulldozers trying to clear sand from roadways to allow other equipment to access the area.
Fort Myers marinas
Some of the more jarring images from the Fort Myers Beach area, that showed the power behind Hurricane Ian, came from marinas with large shrimp and fishing boats.
“These are huge boats… just tossed one on top of each other,” Hockett said. “This gives you an idea of how strong that storm surge, how high that storm surge was and how strong those winds were because that lifted all of these boats up and just dumped them right here.”
Another marina not far away had yachts tossed up on land and boats flipped over in the water. Some boats even landed on nearby homes.
“They’ve got boats inside of their homes,” Hockett said. “These boats are now inside this mobile home park.”
“You can’t even count all the boats that are here,” Hockett said while flying over one of the marinas. “You can’t even tell what’s underneath all of these boats. There’s so many boats, so many fishing boats here, you can’t tell what’s underneath them.”